January 26, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Luke 7)

Submitted by Emily K. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

REFLECTION QUESTIONS
Luke 7:18

Compare John the Baptist’s expectation of what Christ would do (Luke 3:7-9) with what Jesus ends up doing (Luke 7:21-22).
• What might have caused John to question whether Jesus was the ‘one to come’?

John the Baptist had been preaching quite passionately about the need to repent and beware of judgment and the impending wrath of God. This was the message he was preaching to prepare people for Jesus’ coming. Jesus’ ministry thus far has been one of merciful compassion demonstrated through healing and a message of good news to the poor and downtrodden. These seem to be two very different pictures, and this might have caused John to question whether Jesus was indeed the “one to come” he had been prophesying.

• What can I learn from John’s approach to dealing with such doubts?
The way John deals with his doubts is by sending two of his disciples to ask Jesus directly whether or not he was “the one to come,” or if they should “expect someone else.” One thing I learn from this is that I should ask questions. Not only that, but I should ask the right person. John goes directly to Jesus, rather than talking about it with other people and thinking of their own explanations and coming to their own conclusions.

John demonstrates humility in asking this question of Jesus. This could be seen as a dumb question and if John were someone interested in his own image and reputation, he might have just kept silent. I recognize that kind of pride within me. Sometimes I sit on my own questions for fear of how it would make me look before others. John did not push aside his questions and doubts but was active about finding answers. True understanding requires humility and effort – it is not something that will just happen on its own.

Luke 7:28
“…yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
• Consider the implication of this statement—that every Christian in this generation is greater than John the Baptist because we now “have clearer knowledge of the purpose of Jesus’ death and resurrection.”[1] What have I done with such privileged information entrusted to me?
That even the “least in the kingdom of God is greater” than John carries huge implications. This means I have no excuses as to why I am not living with as much, if not more, passion and zeal for God’s name as John the Baptist.

John the Baptist did not have a full picture of all Jesus would do, or even of who Jesus was. Yet he lived a life of such passion, and through his ministry, he reached so many people with the message of repentance and the news of Jesus’ coming. Given the impact of his ministry as but one man, I am challenged by the impact that Christians who are fully and radically committed to God can have on this world. We have the benefit of hindsight that John the Baptist did not have; we have personal knowledge and experience of God and what he did to demonstrate His love for all mankind.

What a privileged position I am in, simply by being a Christian. Apart from how many years I have been a Christian, how long I have served in a certain capacity in a particular ministry, the fact that I have saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and a personal relationship with Him as my Lord means I am greater than John the Baptist. This ought to infuse my life with meaning, at the level of every interaction with people I encounter every day. It means that any hint of a “little ol’ me” mentality is a lie from Satan that I need to push out so that I can share the knowledge of God that I have. This is the most precious thing, it is the gospel, and it is something I can share.

Luke 7:29-30
This passage notes the different response of the two parties to Jesus words. On the one hand are “all the people, even the tax collectors,” and on the other are the “Pharisees and experts in the law.” We are told that their response to Jesus flowed directly from their response to John.

•Reflect on the impact of the initial pride of the latter group toward John, and what it has now led to, and the impact of the humility of the former group to John.
The Pharisees and experts in the law had refused to be baptized by John the Baptist because of their pride. The implication of being baptized was that the religiosity they had so painstakingly built their lives upon was “not enough” before God. Their initial pride regarding John the Baptist and his message hardened such that they could not now accept Jesus’ words regarding God’s purpose for them. Meanwhile, the others who had been baptized by John, whose hearts were broken through the baptism of repentance, were able to acknowledge that God’s way was right. In this way John the Baptist does prepare the way for people to accept Jesus.

•How does this apply to my approach to God’s message and messengers?
Seeing how pride hardens and grows, while humility also grows, is very applicable to how I ought to approach God’s message and his messengers. I should not be naïve to think that I can pick and choose which of God’s messages and messengers I heed. When I harden myself by refusing to go deeper and be broken by a particularly piercing DT reflection question or message, I cannot think that goes without effect in my life. The next time God’s truth comes to me, it will be that much harder for it to penetrate through the layer of pride, no matter how thinly I think I have coated it over my heart.

In the end, the Pharisees and experts in the law were the ones who missed out. Yes, because of their pride, they were able to cling onto whatever image they had built up for themselves, but that’s it. Their pride forces them into a corner and they are stuck. Even if they were to try and respond to something Jesus said later on, they wouldn’t be able to because of how it would mean everything up until then would also have to change. To prevent this kind of spiritual ossification in my own life, I need to have a realistic understanding of my own heart, and commit to receiving truth humbly whether it comes from the pulpit on Sunday, from my spiritual leader, my peer, or a challenge from someone younger. That is how I will ever experience growth or change.

Luke 7:31-32
One commentator notes that Jesus compares these obstinate religious leaders to children at play: “They are the children who are seated and refuse to play, complaining that John and Jesus do not dance to their tune. Whether they play a light tune on the flute or a funeral dirge, these two men do not follow the Jewish leadership’s desires.”[2]

•What is my attitude when it becomes clear that God does not always “dance to my tune”?
To be honest, there have been times I have been like these kids sitting and pouting in the marketplace, because I have wished God would just do my bidding. I had a particular picture of how my life should be, how I would have done it, but I realized God isn’t a genie who blinks his eyes and zaps things into place just as I want. And this has resulted in some hard struggles, where God had to wrestle with my stubborn self-will, and I had to surrender before the reality of who God is and that He is not like me. He sees things I do not see, I should not presume to know what is best for me, and I should definitely not be so ridiculous as to pout about it.

But as I live life longer, and recognize the consistent twistedness of the desires that spring from my sinful heart, I am thankful I do not have a God who dances to my frankly cacophonous tune. To be sure it isn’t pretty every time my ego crashes up against the reality of God and His ways, but the fact that “God is not a man” (Numbers 23:19) and his “ways are not my ways “(Isaiah 55:8-9) is something I am increasingly thankful for.

• In what ways do I get upset when God does not go along with my plans and desires?
My desires and plans, if they were left up to me and my naturally selfish ways, would be to have an easy life where there are no struggles and problems ever. As a product of our culture, I want instant change both in my own life and in the lives of the people I’m ministering to. I have a short attention span and have trouble waiting, and easily want to throw in the towel and give up. But God’s way is different, and He is not satisfied to leave me to live such a poor life. As He wants to give me actual life, He desires to stretch my heart and my capacity, whether in the form of new challenges or through particular people He has called me to minister to and love. When He does so, I do get upset and have the initial immature response of “Why?! It’s too hard…” But time and again I have recognized after the fact His infinite wisdom in orchestrating circumstances as He did.

PERSONAL PRAYER
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you so much for filling my life with so many opportunities to hear Your words of truth. Not only am I able to come before your word to do DT, and receive a sermon or Bible study twice a week, you have given me many spiritual leaders who can speak into my life. You have given me peers and many younger brothers and sisters in the faith You continue to use to bring truth into my life. I ask that You would grant me a heart of humility that is soft and receptive to the truth, no matter how painful and even humiliating the implications might be. Lord, I am so thankful that You do not leave me to figure out how to live life on my own, but that You place no shortage of people to be Your messengers in my life.
—————
Submitted by Kenny C. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
• Doubt, questions
I thought about what a refreshingly honest picture of John the Baptist is shown here. Here is a man who from the outside can seem intimidating, with all his locust-eating ways and raggedly camel clothes exterior. He was spiritually intense and exhibited all the fiery passion of someone who was so sure about what he believed in. I bet if there were a survey that was available back then where people had to choose one person that was that shining example of a believer par excellence, I’m sure John the Baptist would’ve won the voting in the landslide. But the aspect that struck me as I was reading this passage was the fact that he had this nagging question of who Jesus really was. Its seems odd to think that someone like John the Baptist had these doubts and questions, given the magnitude of who he was, but it seemed to have bothered him so much that he sends some of his disciples to go find out if Jesus was really the one to come or if they should be expecting someone else. After all, the answer to this question can change everything for him, and its clear that based on his actions, that he didn’t want to be wrong on this issue about the true identity of Jesus. It turns out that what John the Baptist does here is incredibly humble, because to him, getting the answer straight was more important than his reputation. John the Baptist was prepared to alter his prior understanding of Jesus and consequently change the direction of his life, and that takes a lot of humility to do. As someone who grew up in the church, I remember forgoing opportunities in the past where I should have done a lot more to get answers to my questions about God, instead of being a victim to my insecurity over what this could mean for my reputation or how I’m seen by others if I asked such an “obvious” question. It was my pride that blocked me from getting the answers, and the result was that it delayed my spiritual growth. When I admit that I don’t know what I don’t know, and just come to my spiritual leaders with all my doubts and questions, that I come away feeling strengthened and encouraged in ways that I could not have experienced on my own. Whether its doubts about God or doubts I have about how to live Christian life, I know the power of these doubts and how they can grow to become these massive barriers that prevent me from spiritual maturity, if I don’t bring them up right away The lesson for me here is that having doubts is not the issue, as even John the Baptist had doubt, but what I end up doing with my doubts and if I’m willing to do the hard work of laying aside my pride so that I can come to seek out the answer through God’s word and through God’s people.

• A prophet …
John was indeed a prophet and Jesus makes note of this later on in verse 24. I find it again interesting that Jesus praises John for being a great prophet, even though he had originally sent his disciples to him because of this nagging doubt. Jesus calls him more than a prophet and says, “among those born of women there is no one greater than John.” Jesus is setting up for the punch line because in spite of John being the greatest prophet, he says, “those who are least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” I thought about what Jesus meant by this. It’s because as great of a messenger and prophet as John was, he didn’t have the full picture of Jesus. His understanding of Jesus was that he would come in power, and that his sole purpose in coming was to carry out judgment on others, bringing with him wrath and punishment wherever he went. John thought it would be a frightening thing for all who did not repent, to be anywhere within a 10 mile radius of Jesus, since it meant imminent destruction. But the fact is, Jesus was not coming to condemn but to save and to rescue. He came to give life, as it says in v.22, and not to take away life. And ultimately John never lived long enough to see that what Christ came to do ultimately was to die on the cross for the sins of many. Even though John was this awesome prophet, the ones who are least in the kingdom of God are greater than him because we possess the full picture of who Jesus is, that he wasn’t here to bring wrath and judgment and to take away life, but to bring life by restoring those who are lost back to Him. Somehow, by God’s grace, I am included among those that are least in His kingdom, which by default is a very privileged position to be. That means that I too have to share in the same burden and calling as John the Baptist, to be a prophet in my generation and to share with others the good news of the gospel, except the difference being that I have a complete picture of Jesus, not one of doom and gloom but as one who came to give life abundantly. For me, this means that I need to accurately represent Christ in all that I say and do, and not just give this one-sided picture of God as simply being purely about wrath, but one that wants extend this same mercy and love to those who are not part of His kingdom yet.

•All the people vs. the Pharisees and experts in the law
The similarities between “all the people” in verse 29 and the Pharisees and the experts in the law are that ONE, they both heard the same messages from the same person, John the Baptist, and SECOND, they heard the same message from Jesus. But their responses are so different. The former group ends up being baptized by John, having their hearts softened and prepared so that when Jesus comes, they are able to acknowledge that God’s way was right. The latter group never budged, choosing to stay put while watching others get baptized by John, refusing to change from their stubborn ways, hardening their hearts and ending up rejecting God’s purpose for themselves. One lesson here is the power of a hardened heart and the consequences that it can lead to. For “all the people,” including people like the tax collector, they did not allow their heart to be hardened by all that God was doing in their lives. They listened intently to what John the Baptist had to say, and they were ready to surrender their lives completely once they heard from Jesus about the good news. The so called religious experts however, were too proud and too hardened to surrender their established practices, laws and titles and so they dismissed John first, and that made it easier to dismiss Jesus later on. I think about their first move, to just ignore John the Baptist and how that made all the difference in the world between these two groups of people. For me, I need to be always checking my heart against the Word of God to see if I’m being hardened by some sin, by some failure, by some setback or some struggle I’m having. If I’m having a proud and hardened heart, than I will end up rejecting God’s ways for my own way, which leads me away from life to a life of death. My heart fluctuates constantly, and I know the potential that I have for my heart to grow hardened whenever I reject God’s purpose so that I can do whatever I want according to my evil and selfish desires. It through daily hearing God’s words that reaffirms my commitment to Him and my desire to continue living life according to God’s way, which leads to true life.

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[1] Barton, et al, Life Application New Testament Commentary, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 2001)
[2] Darrell L. Bock, Luke, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996)

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